Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Help me with my sermon...

I'm beginning a series on the church this weekend, and am convinced that the word "church" is one of those words that evokes a huge range of emotions and responses. For example, if you look at the title release of Joni Mitchell's great new CD, the words for shine are very clear: if you're to be thoughtful and love beauty, there's no place for you in the church (see third verse of lyrics). Clearly, she doesn't have a high view of the church. What about others? So, if you have a minute, you could help me with the sermon introduction if you post a response to one of these questions:

1. In a free word association, when I say "church", what's the first word that comes to mind?
2. what kind of adjectives have you heard describing the church among people who attend?
3. how about among people who don't attend?

Again, if you have a minute, I'd be grateful for a response to one of these three, or perhaps a positive or negative experience you've known regarding church life. Thanks.


At 27/9/07 09:08, Blogger Rachel said...

Talk about a loaded question! Hopefully I can get some clear thoughts down before the kiddos awake . . . One of my first thoughts is that we get out of church what we put into it. I've had a variety of experiences, positive and negative, mostly positive. I've found the more I invest in getting to know people and being involved in ministries, the deeper I grow in my relationship with Christ and with those around me. When I go into a church expecting it to be there for me and to fulfill me then I come away empty and frustrated. I expect others to be something I'm not willing to be. However, when I am willing to surrender myself to how God wants to use me in His body, I am suddenly much less critical of other's shortcomings because I am faced with my own as I attempt to live up to God's call on my life.
Obviously we need to take care when deciding what church we will become a part of. To blindly choose a church is foolish. There are many churches that are not healthy. They have lost focus of Christ and His commission to reach out. They are dictatorships, and God is not the dictator.
A negative connotation many have of the church is conformity. They are afraid they will be told how to live. On one level they will (and should), but we should not all dress alike and vote alike and think alike, and have the same taste in art, music and literature. God is so much bigger than that.
Some other negative words that I sometimes connote with church are club, cliche, judgemental, isolated, self-righteous.
I believe that many churches are trying to change these perceptions and are truly seeking to get back to the heart of community where people are sharing not just an hour or two on Sunday morning together, but in life. I strongly believe that the more life we share together, the more light we will shine into the world.

At 27/9/07 09:59, Blogger ryan said...

Inconsistency seems to be a huge reason people (and often myself) are frustrated with the "church" and don't attend. It is hard to be in a place where Christ is verbally proclaimed yet the person of Christ is "left on the street," (Derek Webb). Our culture would rather see the actions of Christ and hear about him later, rather than vice versa. Religion continues to have less and less of a place in our culture, whereas people seem to be more socially aware...and this where Christ meets our culture...on the Ave, in Pioneer Square, on Aurora, in well as the suburbs and office buildings. It will take the church taking the words of Christ to heart and action to shake the disillusionments with the church. See: "The Irresistible Revolution" by Shane Claiborne, for a life jarring thoughts and examples. So much to say, so little space!

At 27/9/07 10:28, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sat last night with a friend, an old Young Life kid actually, who is now married and far past her years in Young. She and her husband (both raised in Christian homes and came to know Christ even more deeply through Young Life and Beyond Malibu), are not attending church currently. When I inquired as to why, she replied, "when I go to church, I can't help but ask myself how people sitting around sipping coffee, in silence, singing a few songs and listening to someone speak and then leaving and going about their normal lives, is church." I agreed with her. For a lot of people outside of the church and ever more increasingly, people inside the church, we are wondering why showing up on Sunday makes someone a Christian. We then talked about the difference between religion and a relationship with Christ. For this woman and her husband and so many young people within the church, church has become on some levels stale and more or less something we do out of obligation, because we know no other way, because we feel guilt. Christ makes it clear that the people are the church and that the 'church' is not just showing up, but doing...carrying out his commandments. The more I'm in the word, the more clear it is to me that our God loves mercy, justice, compassion and love...'Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke? share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-when you see the naked to clothe will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings." Isaiah 58:6-12
To answer your question more succinctly: I believe adjectives associated with those in the church are community, fellowship, challenge, teaching (these are at least things I desire). For those outside of the church, they are religious, tradition, clique, something that makes us feel better about our mortality.

At 27/9/07 11:27, Blogger Tom said...

I'm among those who don't attend a church. In fact, the last church I "attended" with any frequency (every few months) was Bethany, but that was over four years ago when I lived in Seattle. Since then, I've popped in a few churches or helped a friend with a film group that met in a church building. But by and large, my wife and I tend to shy away from corporate gatherings.

We have a few good friends and family members that challenge us and help us grow. (For those who may worry about the command to "not forsake the assembling...")

A few years ago I "stumbled" across the writings of Simone Weil. She wrote of remaining outside of the Church in order to incarnate Christ to the world. She also believed that she was called to live as a follower of Jesus on the outskirts of the Church, although she desperately wished to be a part of the Church.

I share her feeling that I am called to remain largely outside of the corporate Gathering.

I believe in the Church. Christ founded it.

But I also believe that there are times in history when the pendulum must swing and Christ's followers need to get dirty again.

For me, that time is now.

P.S. You, Richard, are still my "pastor" in that I have five years of your sermons on mp3 and listen to you many days of the week on the way to work. Thanks.

At 27/9/07 12:20, Blogger mom said...

i've grown up in "the church" and so should probably have a clearer, more "theologically correct" picture for that word in my head by now, but honestly, the first thing i think of when i hear the word "church" is "pew". hmmm. i attend a wonderful fellowship out in mill creek where we actually sit in CHAIRS during our sunday morning gathering and are all about reaching out from our community-who-follows-Jesus into our wider community instead of just sitting together in pews. :-) so hopefully that picture will soon morph into something healthier. i've just discovered your blog through the recommendation of our daughter who attends bethany and i SO look forward to your dialogue on "the church" ... at this point those i know outside it usually resort to the traditional words like "narrow", "legalistic", "boring", "prideful", and "hypocritical" to describe it. i'm thankful to be a part of a community who seeks to change that and am thankful to find you are, too, pastor richard. blessings as you jump in!

At 27/9/07 12:32, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1- evangelism, services, organization
2- at bethany i have heard a lot of people using the word community. i would probably say uplifting and focusing, for myself.
3- lots of negatives- narrow minded, proselytizing, crucial, intolerant

At 27/9/07 13:58, Blogger Ilse said...

1 - community, learning about who God has for me to be

2 - community, loving, service, worship

3 - close-minded, limiting, serving (others), old-fashioned, conservative.

At 27/9/07 14:29, Anonymous donte said...

My initial thoughts of ‘the church’ focus on all of God’s people; the collective body of Christians throughout the world.

However, when I think about the ‘local church’, my thoughts sway towards centralized affinity groups who believe that their denomination, faction, way of life, doctrine, epistemology, mission, and ethos trumps all others. My frustrations with the local church usually stem from what I perceive as a pursuit of a particular identity rather than a desire to be a vessel that is open, welcoming, and willing serving the church body and those outside ‘the church’.

At 27/9/07 18:03, Anonymous Will Hale said...

When I think of Church, I first think of my childhood church in Colorado. It was a second home for me where I could roam freely and where I knew the vast majority of everyone well. So the general thoughts are warm and fond. But I also think of how cliquey congregations can be too. Where someone on the inside may say, "It's a close-knit loving family" someone on the outside may say, "It's an exclusive social club that hard to break into."

I've heard people talk of the healing and acceptance the church offers that can be found nowhere else. Yet also, people talk of the scathing pain of estrangement from the church body. It's interesting how the juxtaposition exists in the same body of people.

At 27/9/07 22:39, Anonymous Sierra said...

1. serious, God, dressing up, pews, prayer, song, meditation, institution, followers

2. People who attend always seem eager to share their positive experiences, rarely their doubts. Community, giving, strength, god centered come to mind.

3. People who don't attend are wary or indifferent. Sometimes outright hostile. Words like irrelevant, hateful, ignorant, blind--to play the word game again.

I have to agree with Joni that many of my deepest experiences of God are beyond church. The holiest people and experiences rarely seem drawn in the rosy colors of stain glassed windows or in Joni's language "in Exxon blue and radiation rose." Yet we still cling to these images.

Last Sunday night after I left the last service at Bethany, I ran smack into a beautiful parade of colorful artful lanterns bobbing along Green Lake's shore, held high by Fremont art association artists. It was the fall equinox celebration and as holy as a hymn--a quiet and warm celebration of life. I couldn't help imagining that it was a kind of church of the street and the people. And when the real churches would wake up to this effortless praise and gentle expression without pretense.

At 28/9/07 09:21, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have had to miss church quite a few times this summer for various reasons (mostly fun ones, involving camping, trips, etc). It was when I returned after being absent, that I realized how much I need the church, specifically Bethany. Church IS community. A place to be with others who are trying their hardest to seek the same God. A place where we struggle and are still loved and accepted, and still needed and invited to serve. My focus on what's important in life, what things I should value, what goals I should seek, get skewed when I am away. Church is a place for me to get re-focused on what truly matters.

At 28/9/07 15:25, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. First word associated with church = fallen, failure.

2.Adjectives from church goers -social, meaningful, community, happy.

3. people who don't attend - one european friend told me she didn't think 'singing songs and being happy' was going to change the world.

I eagerly await this series on church! The question 'what IS church' has been burning on my heart for many months. I think there is a lot to be said -can't wait to hear it!

At 29/9/07 10:07, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Yuck. for some reason the word church makes me want to rinse my mouth out with soap and start this free association game all over again. A new word this time please?

2. From people who attend i hear words like uplifting, community, challenging and thoughtful.

3. From people who don't attend i hear words like, hypocritical, deceitful, empty, boring, takes up my football watching time and unable to attend due to hangover.

4. My own thoughts on church are different than everything posted so far. I feel torn between loving God and connecting with the world. Torn between loving the church despite its flaws and running away because of them. I am experiencing two different pulls, one from God pulling towards Him and the other pushing me away like opposite ends of two magnets, repelling me away when I get too close. But when I have a moment to think and rest, i ultimately rest in the loving arms of God, who accept me for what I am , a struggling child of God.

At 29/9/07 17:10, Blogger Paul said...

When you say church I hear "body of Christ". but the more I think of it, the more those words are conditioned into me. They are what I have been told many times. Some days I believe them, believe that life in the body is worth having. I have had many joys and verifications from God that it is good to be part of the body. Like when going through a hard transition or perceived failure in life (loss of a relationship, etc). The Christians in my life are quicker to respond out of love and empathy. But on the flip side, there have been many frustrating points of dealing with people, of being invested in their life and when they fail to meet my expectations I tend to want to quit the church. But that shouldn't be the focus when the word "church" comes up. The first thoughts should be based towards ideas of people growing closer to Christ. I think our society has lost the definition of church amongst a ramble of hardships the church has caused rather than the beauty it produces.

At 1/10/07 03:52, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simply to me church says structure, both in physical space and in program. I think Mitchell's lyrics reinforce this societal impression that church is a place of physical and emotional confinement and one can find God without the "structure" of someone telling you where or how to worship our divine. I hear many saying how much they make the mountains/natural environments their church. I suspect we need to work with what "church" means in that we come into a space of worship, grace and meditation WHEREVER we may be.


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